1.         Aksum (Ethiopia) (C 15)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1980

Criteria  (i)(iv)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1996-1996)
Total amount approved: USD 2,000
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided: USD 5.07 million by the Italian Funds-in-Trust for the “Aksum Archaeological Site Improvement Project: Preparatory studies for the reinstallation of the Obelisk and capacity building for archaeological conservation - Phase 1”, "Reinstallation of the Obelisk - Phase 2” and “Consolidation of Stele III”.

Previous monitoring missions

2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009: missions of the World Heritage Centre and experts for the implementation of the Obelisk project; 2010: Joint mission for reactive monitoring World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/15/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2013

The State Party submitted a state of conservation report on 30 January 2013. A joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission took place from 20 to 27 January 2013 to consider the new museum, which had progressed without plans being submitted for review in advance of work commencing, and in spite of concerns expressed by the 2010 reactive monitoring mission in relation to its potential visual and archaeological impacts, and by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies who reviewed plans submitted by the State Party on 23 March 2012, and considered that the size, scale and design of the building would be incompatible with its sensitive surrounding. The mission report is available online at the following Web address: http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/37COM/

a)  Construction of the Orthodox Church Museum

The new Church Museum is being constructed within the Orthodox Church compound next to the Old and New St Mary of Zion church buildings in the property.

In its report, the State Party states that it considers that it had consulted the World Heritage Committee over plans for the new Museum as His Holiness Abune Paulos, the (now late) Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had had a meeting in 2011 at UNESCO at which the project was discussed and as a result of which he assumed that the World Heritage Centre had given permission to proceed. The mission reports that the World Heritage Centre was unaware of the details of the project at this time as the Patriarch’s meeting was with the UNESCO Africa Department.

The State Party stresses the fact that the new museum has been built on the same place as the previous archaeological museum and that it will house the ecclesiastical objects, donated by various Ethiopian rulers to commemorate their coronations in the nearby church of St. Mary Zion as well as many other currently poorly conserved artefacts associated with the church.  In addition, the new museum shall facilitate access to the collections, and shall provide a library as well as research facilities for those interested in the history of Aksum and its surrounding area.

The mission discussed the rationale for the new museum with Church authorities and formed the opinion that it would have no meaning if moved away from the church compound, as some of the museum collections would continue to be used for church purposes. Furthermore Aksum is important as a centre of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as it is the place where the Ethiopian Orthodox religion transferred the Axumite paradigm into a new Christianised paradigm.  The museum is part of a wider move by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church supported by the Ministry of Culture to establish museums all over Ethiopia to protect ecclesiastical artefacts that reflect the history of the country. The design of the new Church Museum takes up direct references to Axumite architectural form and style in order to stress the strong relationship between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with pre-Christian Axumite culture.

The mission was made aware of the efforts undertaken to lower the height of the new building so that it does not compete with the new Church of St. Mary of Zion and to clad it with ‘old mountain stone’. They were also provided with details of rescue archaeology undertaken before construction that concluded there was nothing important on the site. The mission received a copy of this rescue archaeology study but without the site plan of the excavations.

An overall assessment of the impact of the new museum from specific viewpoints in the property was undertaken by the mission. This confirmed that the new building has no or little impact from critical viewpoints at important sites of the property, and that these low impacts could be mitigated by ensuring that high trees around the New Church of St Mary of Zion are maintained into the future.  There are no viewscapes towards the Northern Stele Field that are currently in danger of negative visual impact.

The mission concluded that the overall design needs no mitigation, but the existing screening of the building from critical viewpoints must be maintained through provisions in the Management Plan. However, the design of the building needs minor revisions from the perspective of visual impacts on the ensemble of the three Churches, cemetery and Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant.

The mission noted that while the primary aim of the new museum is to narrate the history of the church and to exhibit its treasures, it could undertake other related functions to support the interpretation and presentation of the chief attributes of the property. There needs to be linkage between the existing Archaeological Museum and the proposed Church Museum.

Notwithstanding their views on the new museum, the mission considered that the density and grain of the urban zone west of the stele field and north of the Church compound, as well as on the slope of the hill behind the stele field, needed to be addressed by urban control mechanisms to protect the current visual quality of the stele field, through restrictions on height and bulk being included in the Master Plan for the property. 

b)  Structured management arrangements for the property

The State Party reports that once the draft regulation for the protection of the property is endorsed, an office for the management of the property would be opened. Work has commenced on the establishment of a site management plan, for which the potential threats have been identified with the participation of stakeholders.

The mission recommends that assistance be provided for the rapid completion of the urgently needed management plan. The mission also recommended that the Department of Archaeology at Aksum University, be involved in the preparation of the Management Plan and its implementation.

Details of the Aksum Master Plan, funded by the World Bank, were provided to the mission, which recommended that it be reviewed in terms of all aspects of heritage management. It also highlighted the desirability of integrating the development, planning, urban management and conservation sectors in the management of the property and its buffer zone with the needs for the Region, City and Church to provide joint input in all matters. The mission acknowledged that there is a strongly expressed need for training and capacity building to ensure that these objectives are met in the long term.

In relation to proposed future developments, the mission recommended that the State Party clearly define these and ensure that the World Heritage Centre is notified on their scope and extent, before commitments are made.

c)  Maps for boundary and buffer zone

The State Party reported that reconnaissance surveys had been conducted for all four national World Heritage properties and the draft boundaries located. However, the detailed boundary maps are still to be finalized. The mission recommends that the final drawings with coordinates be submitted to the World Heritage Centre at the earliest opportunity.

d)  Causes of the rising water table

The State Party provided a technical report on this issue together with a bill of quantities to the World Heritage Centre on 23 March 2012. The World Heritage Centre suggested that the document needed to be updated and the company will be contacted accordingly. The State Party believes that the cause for the rising water table in the Tomb of the Brick Arches has a direct relation with the destabilization of Stele III. Therefore, if the problem in the foundation of Stele III is solved, the rising water table could be stabilized. In the meantime the State Party wishes to request international assistance to investigate the causes of the rising water table. The mission did not have time to investigate this issue.

e)  Stele III consolidation project

Since the reinstallation of Stele II, structural instability of Stele III has been identified as an important factor affecting the property. Following the structural instability apparently caused by the reinstallation of Stele II, the UNESCO reinstallation project decided to install a temporary securing system consisting of stabilizing cables with an inclination monitoring system. As part of Phase 2 of the reinstallation project of Stele II, financed by the Government of Italy, a study on structural investigations of the depth of the Stele III foundation was conducted. However as the Italian Government decided in July 2009 not to extend the project’s duration beyond 31 December 2009, final consolidation works for Stele III could not be undertaken.

Subsequently in March 2010, a structural engineering company was requested by UNESCO to prepare a technical proposal for the consolidation of Stele III, which had an inclination of 2.24°. The company proposed a deeper foundation. The works were estimated to cost around 500, 000 Euros. The proposal was transmitted to the State Party for it to cover the costs. It was also recommended that until consolidation works were started, the temporary securing system should remain in place. This system was still in place when the mission team arrived in Askum in January 2013.

The mission considered that taking into account the fact that the technical problems encountered by Stele III are the consequence of Stele II’s reinstallation; it recommended that the World Heritage Centre assist the State Party in its fundraising efforts to solve this problem. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that the mission considered that the close functional relationship between the new museum and the Old and New St Mary of Zion church buildings justifies the position of the new museum within the Church compound, that the comparatively large museum had only little impact from viewpoints at important sites of the property, and that these could be mitigated by ensuring that high trees around the New Church of St Mary of Zion are maintained into the future and by minor modifications to the building.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies further note the need for urgent progress to be made on the Management Plan with, if possible, the involvement of the Department of Archaeology, Aksum University. The Plan needs to include an interpretation strategy to show how the new church museum, in coordination with the archaeological museum, can play a pivotal role in presenting the property. They also note the need for the Aksum Master Plan to be reviewed in terms of heritage management, and for training and capacity building to support these processes.

A long-standing lack of clarity over the boundaries of the property and its buffer zone remains to be resolved and the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that work to clarify this issue needs to be undertaken as soon as possible.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that the State Party considers that the cause of the rising water table in the Tomb of the Brick Arches has a direct relation with the destabilization of Stele III, which in turn is believed to be related to the re-installation of Stele II. Currently the State Party has not identified funding to deal with either an investigation of the rising water table or with strengthening the foundations of Stele III, as recommended by a technical report. As the international community contributed to funds to repatriate Stele II, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies suggest that the Committee might wish to appeal for funds to address the implications of this project.

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 7B.38

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/7B,

2.  Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.41 , adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),

3.  Notes the results of the mission that the Church Museum when completed will not have an adverse visual impact on specific views within the property if a screen of tall trees is maintained and the building façade is slightly modified as recommended by the mission; and requests the State Party to submit the final plans to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible;

4.  Urges the State Party to implement the Management Plan with, if possible, the involvement of the Department of Archaeology, Aksum University, and to review the Aksum Master Plan in terms of heritage management;

5.  Also urges the State Party to finalise the clarification of the boundaries of the property and its buffer zone as a matter of urgency and to submit a minor boundary modification to the World Heritage Centreby 1 February 2015 for examination by the World Heritage Committee;

6.  Also notes that the State Party considers that the cause of the rising water table in the Tomb of the Brick Arches has a direct relation with the destabilization of Stele III, which in turn is believed to be related to the re-installation of Stele II and that the State Party has not identified funding to deal with either an investigation of the rising water table or with strengthening the foundations of Stele III, as recommended by a technical report;

7.  Appeals to the international community, to consider supporting work to address the implications of the consolidation project of Stele III;

8.  Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015 , an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015. 

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 8E

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Documents WHC-13/37.COM/8E and WHC-13/37.COM/8E.Add,

2.  Congratulates States Parties for the excellent work accomplished in the elaboration of retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value for World Heritage properties in their territories;

3.  Adopts the retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value, as presented in the Annex of Document WHC-13/37.COM/8E, for the following World Heritage properties:

4.  Decides that retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value for World Heritage properties in Danger will be reviewed by the Advisory Bodies in priority;

5.  Further decides that, considering the high number of retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value to be examined, the order in which they will be reviewed by the Advisory Bodies will follow the Second Cycle of Periodic Reporting, namely:

6.  Requests the World Heritage Centre to harmonise all sub-headings in the adopted Statements of Outstanding Universal Value where appropriate and when resources and staff time allow to carry out this work;

7.  Also requests the State Parties, Advisory Bodies and World Heritage Centre to ensure the use of gender-neutral language in the Statements proposed for adoption to the World Heritage Committee;

8.  Further requests the World Heritage Centre to keep the adopted Statements in line with subsequent decisions by the World Heritage Committee concerning name changes of World Heritage properties, and to reflect them throughout the text of the Statements, in consultation with States Parties and Advisory Bodies;

9.  Finally requests the States Parties to provide support to the World Heritage Centre for translation of the adopted Statements of Outstanding Universal Value into English or French respectively, and finally requests the Centre to upload these onto its web-pages.